2017: 17-year-olds with 17 questions

Unrest on campuses to churning among Dalits, anger in Kashmir to the forced calm of Bastar, deaths on tracks to lives post demonetisation, people who moved to those who wish to. This year, the big event often drowned out the small question.

By: Express Web Desk | Updated: January 1, 2017 10:47 am

To mark 2017, The Sunday Express meets 17-year-olds across the country touched by the big events of 2016 — to listen to their questions as they begin their first year of adulthood.

Vishal Gupta, Indore | ‘I am boarding a train again. What if this one derails too?’

vishal-selfieThe over 1,200-km journey from Indore to his village Bilaujha in Mau district of eastern Uttar Pradesh was a special one for 17-year-old Vishal Gupta. His sister Ruby, 23, was getting married on December 1. The shopping for her trousseau was done, and father Ram Prasad Gupta, 45, a sales assistant at a wine shop in Indore, had borrowed Rs 3 lakh from friends and relatives to provide for the other expenses. Vishal, a Class 10 student, his father, sisters Ruby and 14-year-old Khushi, boarded the Indore-Patna Express from Indore in the afternoon on November 19.

A little after 3 am, when most passengers were fast asleep, fourteen coaches of the train derailed at Pukhrayan in Kanpur Dehat district, leaving over 150 dead. Vishal and his family were in the S-1 coach that was one of the worst hit in the accident. “A few hours after the accident, Ruby, Khushi and I managed to pull ourselves out of the debris, but we couldn’t find our father. We lost all our belongings, including the money that my father had borrowed,” recalls Vishal.

A student of Little Angels’ Convent in Indore, he will return to school in February, after his sister’s wedding. The thought of that journey is “scary”, he says. “I have not boarded a train since the accident. What if that train derails too? Why can’t drivers be more careful?” asks Vishal. “It’s ironic that the government talks of bullet trains when they should be worrying about the safety of passengers. Isn’t it more important that passengers reach their destination safe, even if late?” he says. Read more here – Ramendra Singh

Kanchan Harijan, Odisha | ‘When will a good road be built to my college so that there can be more buses?’

kanchanIn the grimy female medicine ward of the Nabarangpur district headquarters hospital, Kanchan Harijan sits on the bed with her younger sister Rashmita Harijan. Their father, Paramananda Harijan, 45, squats on the floor as there are no chairs available for attendants. They have been here since the night of December 14 when Rashmita had to be rushed to hospital after being diagnosed with sickle cell anaemia Dr Priyaranjan Bahali, who did the morning rounds at the ward, told them that Rashmita’s haemoglobin level was 6 gm/dl, less than half of the ideal count.

Kanchan, a Class 12 Arts student of Sai Vinayak College in Majhiguda, admits she is worried about missing school. “My final examinations are in March and I don’t want to miss classes even for a day,” she says The Dalit girl from Pakhanaguda village in Nandahandi block of Nabarangpur is the most educated in her family of five that includes Rashmita, their younger brother Balaram and her parents. Two years ago, after she scored 56 per cent in her Class 10 exams, Kanchan’s parents enrolled her for Plus 2 in a private college. The monthly fees is Rs 2,200, and Kanchan knows the money is daunting for her father, who works as an MNREGS labourer.

What bothers Kanchan more, though, is the lack of buses as she must travel 20 km every day to college. She pays Rs 10 for the 30-minute ride, but rarely gets a seat. Read more here – Debabrata Mohanty

Nishant Khushwaha, Delhi | ‘I want to acquire skills. Can I do that, and not be a labourer like my father?’

nishantIn August, Nishant Khushwaha earned his first salary, at a cardboard factory in northwest Delhi’s Shalimar Bagh. “It was the first time I earned regular money. It was apna paisa (my own money) and I could do anything I wanted with it,” says Nishant, a lean teenager with long hair backbrushed into a pompadour. But the stint was shortlived. Nishant caught chikungunya and a bad bout of brain fever, his mother Sunita says. By the time he recovered, demonetisation had been announced, and it was the end of job prospects for the school dropout “who has no inclination to study”.

In the new year, Nishant hopes to get a stable job in a mobile phone manufacturing factory.

“My friend Sahil works in a unit where mobile phones are assembled. Kaam seekhna hai (I want to acquire skills). Why can’t I get a job like that? I don’t want to be a labourer like my father,” he says. Read more here – Sarah Hafeez

Loman Ali, Kairana | ‘Why not get us a job? We will leave’

lomanIn 2017, Loman Ali hopes to get a job. The money would help, but above all, the job would allow him to get married to the love of his life. They met at a wedding in Kandhla and fell in love instantly, he says. Living in a one-room house with his father, two brothers, two sisters-in-law and their five children, in Kairana’s Nahid Colony built for the riot victims of Muzaffarnagar, Loman pines for privacy to even talk to her.

He hasn’t thought about whether he can legally marry the girl, who is 17 too. When it comes to that, the teenager hopes the fact that he has no document proving his age will help. Since no one in the family, originally belonging to Fugana village — one of the worst hit in the September 2013 violence — remembers his birthday, it is an approximate guess that he is 17. Read more here – Ishita Mishra

Tabish Rafiq Bhat, Jammu-Kashmir | ‘Studying is only way forward. I always wanted to do MBA. But can I still?’

tabishTabish Rafiq Bhat says he always hoped to do a Master’s in Business Administration (MBA) some day. But the pellets that pierced his left eye shattered his retina — and his dreams. Now, he says, he can’t look at the printed word without his eyes watering.

“My future seems dark… just like my eye,” says the 17-year-old, who wrote his Class 10 examinations in November. Tabish says he asked for a writer during the exams, but the Board of School Education “turned down my request”. “My left eye hurt badly when I wrote my exams,” he says, lying under a blanket in his single-room house that is partitioned to make space for the kitchen.

The family is preparing for another surgery — the fourth — on Tabish’s left eye. “Doctors say there are two more pellets inside. They say they can only remove the pellets and that I won’t be able to see with my left eye.” Read more here – Basharat Masood

Alice Yumnam, Manipur | ‘I just want a picnic with my friends. Will the curfew end?’

aliceFor the majority of her teenage years, Alice Yumnam was “blissfully unaware” of what an Inner Line Permit (ILP) meant even though, she admits, peer pressure initially prompted her to take part in the protests on the issue, which first cropped up in 2012.

Alice’s locality, Khurai in Imphal East district in the state capital, has always been the epicentre of Meitei-centric protests in Manipur. And their demand for some form of an Inner Line Permit (ILP), which restricts entry of outsiders into Manipur, has largely been driven by the youth wing of the Joint Committee for Inner Line Permit (JCILP), a group of civic organisations that has been spearheading the movement since 2012. Read more here – Esha Roy

 

Mohammad Shahjad Alam, Azamgarh | ‘No action against guilty. Then how are we going to ensure this isn’t repeated?’

p4_md-shahjad-nephew-of-maWhen news that his uncle had passed away reached him on March 19, Mohammad Shahjad Alam was at his madrasa at Mubarakpur in Uttar Pradesh’s Azamgarh district. It was only after he returned home to Jharkhand two days later, he says, that he realised what had happened. His uncle, Mohammad Majloom Ansari, 35, and 12-year-old Imtiyaz Khan were lynched, allegedly by a mob of cow vigilantes, at Jhabar village in Jharkhand’s Latehar district, and their bodies strung up on a tree. The two cattle traders, herding oxen to a fair in Hazaribagh, were accused of taking the animals for illegal slaughter.

“When I returned, all I could see was people in tears. The memories just refuse to fade. I don’t remember any celebrations at home since,” says Alam, sitting in his home at Nawada village, 10 km from Jhabar, where the incident occurred. Read more here – Prashant Pandey

Anirbana Dasgupta, Howrah | ‘Patriotism must come from within. Can you ask an East Bengal fan to cheer for a bad pass?’

Anirbana Dasgupta has an opinion on everything — from the state of education in West Bengal to the recent Supreme Court order on the national anthem — and a football analogy for each.

anirbanThe Class 11 student of Maria’s Day School in Howrah says he wants to get out of West Bengal in 2017 because “the state just doesn’t offer the same options anymore. It’s like a football team with great forwards, but a bad goalkeeper and even worse defenders.

An avid footballer, a voracious reader and a self-confessed science geek, Anirbana says he has avoided films in movie halls since the national anthem order.

“Of course, I will stand up for the anthem if that’s the law. But if I am going to watch a movie for the Sunny Leone item number in it, I am not in a very patriotic mood, am I? Feelings of patriotism should come from within. I mean, you can’t ask an East Bengal fan to cheer for a bad pass which costs the team a goal, can you?” Read more here – Aniruddha Ghosal

Divyesh Solanki, Una | ‘Why should I stay a Hindu? Maybe I will convert to Buddhism this year’

divyesh“No money today either,” says Divyesh Solanki as he walks home with his mother and sister after a day spent sorting and packing freshly harvested onion bulbs. They are hired for Rs 160 a day, and for the last three days, haven’t been paid their money.

“The farmer has asked me to come back tomorrow,” says Divyesh. He doesn’t know what else he could do for a living, he says. He knows what he “won’t do”, however. “Until a few months ago, almost every male member in our extended family and community skinned cows for a living. I never learnt to do it and even if I did, after what happened to members of our community, I can’t imagine doing it either.”

Divyesh’s village Mota Samadhiyala was the epicentre of Dalit unrest in Gujarat after seven men from the village were flogged on July 11 by a group of ‘gau rakshaks’ for skinning a cow carcass. Read more here. – Gopal Kateshiya

Naresh Nareti, Bastar | ‘I want to ask government, Maoists, when will the fighting end?’

nareshAll his life, Naresh Nareti says, he has known fear. He was afraid when the Naxals arrived in his village, Kodapakha in Kanker district, and demanded that he, then 10, do odd jobs for them. He was afraid when he first heard gunshots and saw bodies, when just a child. He was afraid when he left for another village to study, separated from his parents for the first time. Now, the 17-year-old says, fear never leaves him.

So if he could, he would ask this question to all those responsible for the play of life and death in the theatre of Bastar: “When will you allow us to stop being afraid?… I want to ask the government and the Maoists, and everyone else who can do something, when will the fighting end?”

Naresh clearly remembers the day Naxals picked him up from his house. He was playing with his younger sister and elder brother. A group of four walked up to his father in the fields and demanded that Naresh be handed over. Read more here – Dipankar Ghose

Gramapudi Pavan, Andhra Pradesh | ‘What do you think happens to Dalits in big colleges? I don’t even speak good English’

pawanselfieAfter his Class 10, Gramapudi Pavan wanted to join the Industrial Training Institute (ITI) in Guntur town, but opted for an Intermediate college (Class 10 and 12) “because it was less expensive”. Pavan, the son of a tenant farmer, and his family — parents and two younger siblings — live on Narsaraopet Road, not far from where Rohith Vemula, the Dalit PhD scholar who committed suicide on January 17 at the University of Hyderabad, grew up.

A second-year student of CEC (Civics, Economics, and Commerce) at the S M Intermediate College in Guntur, Pavan hopes to go to S M College near Guntur next year for a graduation degree in commerce. “It is a good college and has a big campus,” he says. But Pavan has his worries: “I have heard a lot of ragging happens in these big colleges. But I am more worried about being identified by my caste.” Read more here – Sreenivas Janyala

Charna, Punjab | ‘Will I be able to buy my own mixing console?’

charnaIt’s a common sight along the Amritsar-Khemkaran rail line on the outer edge of Patti town in Punjab’s Tarn Taran district: Groups of youth playing cards with cigarettes firmly between their lips. The young men, from the nearby Sangal Basti, where a majority of the families are below poverty line, are drawn to the tracks by the afternoon sun; the passing trains a minor inconvenience.

Among those in one such smoke-filled circle is Charna, 17, a school dropout. His father, he says, died in a road accident when he was just seven. It fell upon his mother, who works as a domestic help, to raise Charna and his elder brother. “I didn’t find studies interesting so stopped going to school after Class 8. What use is studying? I know many guys who have passed Class 10 but don’t have any proper jobs. They all do manual labour. So it is better to start working from now,” Charna says. Read more here – Kamaldeep Singh Brar

Faizan Mohammed, Madhya Pradesh | ‘Why do we have to pay such hefty fees?’

faizanClad in a pair of jeans and a shirt, Faizan Mohammed continually fiddles with his new mobile. He says he loves the television serial Tarak Mehta Ka Ulta Chashma while the Salman Khan-superhit Bajrangi Bhaijaan was the last movie he watched. He lives near the only mosque in Ganesh Talai, a locality in Madhya Pradesh’s Khandwa town populated by both Hindus and Muslims, but says he visits it only for Friday prayers.

The teenager’s nervous smile betrays his anxiety. Not keen to speak by himself, Faizan says he has been told by his family and relatives to avoid talking to strangers. The apprehensions are shared by many Muslim youth in the communally sensitive Khandwa town — often in the news for its link to the banned Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) — who are scared of being called by the police for questioning, particularly in the wake of recent events. Of the eight SIMI undertrials gunned down by police on October 31, hours after they allegedly escaped from Bhopal Central Jail, five were from Khandwa in Madhya Pradesh. Read more here – Milind Ghatwai

Aditya Chanana, New Delhi | ‘I begin college this year. Will I be able to speak my mind?’

adityaIn a little over six months from now, Aditya Chanana, a Class 12 science student, will begin college. While his days now are filled with coursework and preparing for engineering entrance exams, he often longs for a break, like the one he took through his school years, to cycle around the lush green Jawaharlal Nehru University campus, a few kilometres from his home in south Delhi’s Vasant Kunj locality.

“After a hectic school week, I would go there to unwind. I am also part of a cyclists’ group, and on a couple of occasions we went to the campus together. The Aravalis, the greenery, the winding roads, all made for a great cycling course,” says Aditya, a student of Delhi Public School, Vasant Kunj. But Aditya no longer makes his weekly trips to the campus. “In February this year, while I was cycling around the campus, I came across a protest rally. There was a crowd outside the administrative block, and I saw a couple of television reporters talking to students. I was told that a group of students had raised anti-India slogans,” says Aditya, whose father works in a pharmaceutical firm. He has no siblings. Read more here. – Saikat Bose

Umarfarukh Mainoddin Patel, Latur | ‘Will there be another drought? Can government tackle it?’ 

umarIn March, when the Latur water crisis was at its peak, like scores of others, the family of Umarfarukh Mainoddin Patel wanted desperately to leave the city. “It was the worst nightmare of our life. We had to walk kilometres in the blazing summer sun to get a bucket of water,” remembers Umarfarukh. Often, it fell upon the 17-year-old to fetch water for the family, which lives in Shahu Chowk area of Latur, as his father would leave for work early in the morning. “The nearest water points were Gandhi Chowk and Vivekanand Chowk, both 2 km away,” says the Class 12 student. He either carried the pitchers home or rode back with them on a bicycle.

It was an exercise that could last up to eight hours a day, says Umarfarukh. By the time he reached the spot, there would already be long queues, of people with two-three pitchers or buckets each, struggling with the trickle being dispensed at the water point. “I used to get a fright.” In a crucial academic year, his studies suffered too, Umarfarukh says, as standing in the sun for so long often left him ill. His ambition is to become a judge. “I want to ensure justice to the poor, especially those wrongly charged… In this country, only those who have money get justice, the poor have little recourse to justice,” he says. Read more here – Manoj More

Noor-us-Sama, Jammu-Kashmir | ‘When will CM, separatists stop using students as football?’

noorAfter remaining confined to her house at Zainakote on the outskirts of Srinagar for five months, Noor-us-Sama, a science student, appeared for her Class 12 exams last month after the state government went ahead with them despite initial protests from students. “Ours was the most unlucky batch. We had faced a similar situation in Class 10 in 2014 when our exams had got postponed due to the floods in the city. Instead of 2014, we sat for the exams in 2015, and some months later, appeared for Class 11 exams,” says Sama, playing with her two younger brothers, who are in Classes 7 and 8.

“I thought I would make up for all that this year, but 2016 proved even worse,” sighs Sama, who had cleared Class 10 with distinction. After her initial schooling at a private English-medium school in Karan Nagar, Sama now studies in the Kothibagh Higher Secondary School, a reputed government institution. In the five months following Hizbul Mujahideen militant Burhan Wani’s killing, Sama couldn’t move out of her house and due to the Internet and mobile phone blockades, struggled to stay in touch with friends and classmates. “I couldn’t even concentrate on my studies due to the protests and curfews,” Sama adds. Read more here – Mir Ehsan

Arya Mohan, Bihar | ‘Now that there is liquor ban, can Nitish Kumar ensure its success?’

arya“If I happen to meet Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, I would ask him one straight question: Isn’t he the same person who took liquor to every door because of a liberal excise policy earlier? He has been invoking Mahatma Gandhi very often to support the liquor ban, but I would like to ask him if Gandhi was not relevant then.”

At the same time, clarifies Arya Mohan, a student of Class 12 at DAV, BSEB Colony, Patna, she supports prohibition as well as Nitish Kumar and his “development vision”. “Prohibition is a great tool of women empowerment. In a low-income family, with its head a drinker, education becomes secondary. I am happy that some of these families probably understand the value of education now,” she says, adding that she has heard from friends stories of families being destroyed by drinking. Read more here. – Santosh Singh